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Hayley on Pope’s genius and his satire

Hayley on Pope’s genius and his satire

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POPE 529

The severity of Criticism has from hence inferred, that his imagination was

inferior to the other faculties of his mind, and that he possessed not that vigour of

genius which might enable him to rank with our more sublime and pathetic

Bards. This inference appears to me extremely defective both in candour and in

reason; it would surely be more generous, and I will venture to add, more just, to

assign very different causes for his having latterly applied himself to moral and

satyric composition. If his preceding poems displayed only a moderate portion of

fancy and of tenderness, we might indeed very fairly conjecture, that he quitted

the kind of poetry, where these qualities are particularly required, because Nature

directed him to shine only as the Poet of reason.—But his earlier productions

will authorize an opposite conclusion. At an age when few authors have

produced any capital work, Pope gave the world two poems, one the offspring of

imagination, and the other of sensibility, which will ever stand at the head of the

two poetical classes to which they belong: his Rape of the Lock, and his Eloise,

have nothing to fear from any rivals, either of past or of future time. When a

writer has displayed such early proofs of exquisite fancy, and of tender

enthusiasm, those great constituents of the real Poet, ought we not to regret that

he did not give a greater scope and freer exercise to these qualities, rather than to

assert that he did not possess them in a superlative degree?—Why then, it may

be asked, did he confine himself to compositions in which these have little share?

The life and character of Pope will perfectly explain the reasons, why he did not

always follow the higher suggestions of his own natural genius. He had

entertained an opinion, that by stooping to truth, and employing his talents on the

vices and follies of the passing time, he should be most able to benefit mankind.

The idea was perhaps ill-founded, but his conduct in consequence of it was

certainly noble. Its effects however were most unhappy; for it took from him all

his enjoyment of life, and may injure, in some degree, his immortal reputation:

by suffering his thoughts to dwell too much on knaves and fools, he fell into the

splenetic delusion, that the world is nothing but a compound of vice and folly;

and from hence he has been reproached for supposing that all human merit was

confined to himself, and to a few of his most intimate correspondents.

There was an amiable peculiarity in the character of Pope, which had great

influence both on his conduct and composition—he embraced the sentiments of

those he loved with a kind of superstitious regard; his imagination and his

judgment were perpetually the dupes of an affectionate heart: it was this which

led him, at the request of his idol Bolingbroke, to write a sublime poem on

metaphysical ideas which he did not perfectly comprehend; it was this which

urged him almost to quarrel with Mr. Allen, in compliance with the caprices of a

female friend;1 it was this which induced him, in the warmth of gratitude, to

follow the absurd hints of Warburton with all the blindness of infatuated

affection. Whoever examines the life and writings of Pope with a minute and

unprejudiced attention, will find that his excellencies, both as a Poet and a Man,

were peculiarly his own; and that his failings were chiefly owing to the ill

judgment, or the artifice, of his real and pretended friends. The lavish applause


and the advice of his favourite Atterbury [see p. 16 above], were perhaps the

cause of his preserving the famous character of Addison, which, finely written as

it is, all the lovers of Pope must wish him to have suppressed. Few of his friends

had integrity or frankness sufficient to persuade him, that his satires would

destroy the tranquillity of his life, and cloud the lustre of his fame: yet, to the

honour of Lyttelton, be it remembered, that he suggested such ideas to the Poet,

in the verses which he wrote to him from Rome, with all the becoming zeal of

enlightened friendship:

No more let meaner Satire dim the rays

That flow majestic from thy nobler bays!

In all the flowery paths of Pindus stray,

But shun that thorny, that unpleasing way!

Nor, when each soft, engaging Muse is thine,

Address the least attractive of the Nine!2

This generous admonition did not indeed produce its intended effect, for other

counsellors had given a different bias to the mind of the Poet, and the malignity

of his enemies had exasperated his temper; yet he afterwards turned his thoughts

towards the composition of a national Epic poem, and possibly in consequence

of the hint which this Epistle of Lyttelton contains. The intention was formed too

late, for it arose in his decline of life. Had he possessed health and leisure to

execute such a work, I am persuaded it would have proved a glorious acquisition

to the literature of our country: the subject indeed which he had chosen must be

allowed to have an unpromising appearance; but the opinion of Addison

concerning his Sylphs, which was surely honest, and not invidious, may teach us

hardly ever to decide against the intended works of a superior genius. Yet in all

the Arts we are perpetually tempted to pronounce such decisions. I have

frequently condemned subjects which my friend Romney had selected for the

pencil; but in the sequel, my opinion only proved that I was nearsighted in those

regions of imagination, where his keener eyes commanded all the prospect. [iv.




[See Spence, Anecdotes, i. 159–60]

[See No. 62]


Johnson on ‘whit’


Conversation between Dr Samuel Johnson and William Weller

Pepys on 29 October 1782, reported by Fanny Burney, Diary and

Letters of Madame D’Arblay…edited by her Niece, ii. (1842), 164–5.

Johnson, who was visiting Brighton at the same time as Mrs Thrale,

had already argued with Pepys (1740–1825) in June 1781. Ailing and

discouraged, Johnson’s ill-temper was only too evident to others.

Further, see J.L.Clifford, Hester Lynch Piozzi (1941), pp. 197, 212,

and Boswell’s Life, ed. L.F.Powell (1934–50), iv. 65n., 487–8.

The sum of the dispute was this. Wit being talked of, Mr. Pepys repeated,—

True wit is Nature to advantage dress’d,

What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.

[An Essay on Criticism, ll. 97–8]

‘That, sir,’ cried Dr. Johnson, ‘is a definition both false and foolish. Let wit be

dressed how it will, it will equally be wit, and neither the more nor the less for

any advantage dress can give it.’

Mr. P. But, sir, may not wit be so ill expressed, and so obscure, by a bad speaker,

as to be lost?

Dr. J. The fault, then, sir, must be with the hearer. If a man cannot distinguish

wit from words, he little deserves to hear it.

Mr. P. But, sir, what Pope means—

Dr. J. Sir, what Pope means, if he means what he says, is both false and foolish.

In the first place, ‘what oft was thought,’ is all the worse for being often

thought, because to be wit, it ought to be newly thought.

Mr. P. But, sir, ‘t is the expression makes it new.

Dr. J. How can the expression make it new? It may make it clear, or may make

it elegant; but how new? You are confounding words with things.

Mr. P. But, sir, if one man says a thing very ill, may not another man say it so

much better that—

532 POPE

Dr. J. That other man, sir, deserves but small praise for the amendment; he is

but the tailor to the first man’s thoughts.

Mr. P. True, sir, he may be but the tailor ; but then the difference is as great as

between a man in a gold lace suit and a man in a blanket.

Dr. J. Just so, sir, I thank you for that: the difference is precisely such, since it

consists neither in the gold lace suit nor the blanket, but in the man by

whom they are worn.

This was the summary; the various contemptuous sarcasms intermixed would

fill, and very unpleasantly, a quire.


Vicesimus Knox on the two parties in English



Vicesimus Knox, Essays Moral and Literary (‘New Edition’, 1782),

ii. 186–7.

I think it is not difficult to perceive, that the admirers of English poetry are

divided into two parties. The objects of their love are, perhaps, of equal beauty,

though they greatly differ in their air, their dress, the turn of their features, and

their complexion. On one side, are the lovers and imitators of Spenser and

Milton; and on the other, those of Dryden, Boileau, and Pope.

Now it happens, unfortunately, that those who are in love with one of these

forms are, sometimes, so blind to the charms of the other, as to dispute their

existence. The author of the essay on Pope [Warton], who is himself a very

agreeable poet, and of what I call the old school of English poetry, seems to deny

the justice of Mr. Pope’s claim to the title of a true poet, and to appropriate to

him the subordinate character of a satyrical versifier. On the other hand, the

authors of the Traveller [Goldsmith], and of the Lives of the English Poets

[Johnson], hesitate not to strip the laurels from the brow of the Lyric Gray.

Goldsmith, in his Life of Parnell, has invidiously compared the

Night Piece on Death to Gray’s Elegy; and in a manner which betrays a little

jealousy of a living poet’s fame, given the preference to Parnell. There is also a

little censure thrown on the elegy, in a collection which Goldsmith published

under the title of the Beauties of English Poetry. I remember to have heard

Goldsmith converse, when I was very young, on several subjects of literature,

and make some oblique and severe reflections on the fashionable poetry. I became

a convert to his opinion, because I revered his authority. I took up the odes of

Gray with unfavourable prepossessions, and in writing my remarks on them,

joined in the censure. I have since read them with great delight, and on

comparing their style, and even their obscurity, with many of the finest pieces of

Lyric composition in all antiquity, I find a very great resemblance. I am not

ashamed to retract my former opinion, and to pay the tribute of applause to those

elegant friends, Gray and Mason. At the same time, while it is easy to discern

that they differ greatly from the school of Dryden and Pope, it is no derogation

534 POPE

from their merit to assert, that they are the genuine disciples of Spenser and

Milton. Such also are the very elegant and learned brothers, one of whom

presides, with so much honour, over the school at Winchester, and the other has

written an elegant and elaborate history of that English poetry in which himself



Pope on versification

1706 (?)

Pope to William Walsh, 22 October, Corresp., i. 22–5. This letter is

fabricated from one to Henry Cromwell, dated 25 November 1710.

Sherburn remarks, ‘Evidently he felt inclined to emphasise the

influence of Walsh, and had relatively few Walsh letters to print.’

After the Thoughts I have already sent you on the subject of English

Versification, you desire my opinion as to some farther particulars. There are

indeed certain Niceties, which tho’ not much observed even by correct Versifiers,

I cannot but think deserve to be better regarded.

1. It is not enough that nothing offends the Ear, but a good Poet will adapt the

very Sounds, as well as Words, to the things he treats of. So that there is (if one

may express it so) a Style of Sound. As in describing a gliding Stream, the

Numbers shou’d run easy and flowing; in describing a rough Torrent or Deluge,

sonorous and swelling, and so of the rest. This is evident every where in Homer

and Virgil, and no where else that I know of to any observable degree. The

following Examples will make this plain, which I have taken from Vida.

Molle viam tacito lapsu per levia radit.

Incedit tardo molimine subsidendo.

Luctantes ventos, tempestatesque sonoras.

Immenso cum præcipitans ruit Oceano Nox.

Telum imbelle sine ictu, Conjecit.

Tolle moras, cape saxa manu, cape robora Pastor,

Ferte citi flammas data tela, repellite pestem.1

1 [The sources of these lines, in order, are: Vida, Ars poetica, iii. 374, 376; Aeneid, i. 53;

Vida, iii. 425; Aeneid, ii. 544–5 (combined); Vida, iii. 422, 423]

536 POPE

This, I think, is what very few observe in practice, and is undoubtedly of

wonderful force in imprinting the Image on the reader: We have one excellent

Example of it in our Language, Mr. Dryden s Ode on St. Cœcilia’s Day, entitled,

Alexander’s Feast.

2. Every nice Ear, must (I believe) have observed, that in any smooth English

Verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a Pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth

syllable. It is upon these the Ear rests, and upon the judicious Change and

Management of which depends the Variety of Versification. For example,

At the fifth. Where-e’er thy Navy || spreads her canvass Wings,

At the fourth. Homage to thee || and Peace to all she brings.1

At the sixth. Like Tracts of Leverets || in Morning Snow.2

Now I fancy, that to preserve an exact Harmony and Variety, the Pauses of the

4th or 6th shou’d not be continu’d above three lines together, without the

Interposition of another; else it will be apt to weary the Ear with one continu’d

Tone, at least it does mine: That at the 5th runs quicker, and carries not quite so

dead a weight, so tires not so much tho’ it be continued longer.

3. Another nicety is in relation to Expletives, whether Words or Syllables,

which are made use of purely to supply a vacancy: Do before Verbs plural is

absolutely such; and it is not improbable but future Refiners may explode did and

does in the same manner, which are almost always used for the sake of Rhime.

The same Cause has occasioned the promiscuous use of You and Thou to the same

Person, which can never sound so graceful as either one or the other.

4. I would also object to the Irruption of Alexandrine Verses of twelve

syllables, which I think should never be allow’d but when some remarkable

Beauty or Propriety in them attones for the Liberty: Mr. Dry den has been too

free of these, especially in his latter Works. I am of the same opinion as to Triple


5. I could equally object to the Repetition of the same Rhimes within four or

six lines of each other, as tiresome to the Ear thro’ their Monotony.

6. Monosyllable-Lines, unless very artfully managed, are stiff, or languishing:

but may be beautiful to express Melancholy, Slowness, or Labour.

7. To come to the Hiatus, or Gap between two words which is caus’d by two

Vowels opening on each other (upon which you desire me to be particular) I

think the rule in this case is either to use the Cæsura, or admit the Hiatus, just as

the Ear is least shock’d by either: For the Cæsura sometimes offends the Ear

more than the Hiatus itself, and our language is naturally overcharg’d with

Consonants: As for example; If in this Verse,



[Waller, ‘To the King on his Navy, in the Year 1726’]

[Waller, ‘Of a tree cut in Paper’]


The Old have Interest ever in their Eye,

we should say, to avoid the Hiatus,

But th’ Old have Int’erest—

The Hiatus which has the worst effect, is when one word ends with the same

Vowel that begins the following; and next to this, those Vowels whose sounds

come nearest to each other are most to be avoided. O, A, or U, will bear a more

full and graceful Sound than E, I, or Y. I know some people will think these

Observations trivial, and therefore I am glad to corroborate them by some great

Authorities, which I have met with in Tully and Quintilian. In the fourth Book of

Rhetoric to Herennius,1 are these words: Fugiemus crebras Vocalium

concursiones, quœ vastam atque hiantem reddunt orationem; ut hoc est, Baccœ

œneœ amœnissimœ impendebant. And Quintilian l. 9. cap. 4. Vocalium

concursus cum accidit, hiat & intersistit, at quasi laborat oratio. Pessimi longè

quœ easdem inter se liter as committunt, sonabunt: Prœcipuus tamen erit hiatus

earum quœ cavo aut patulo ore efferuntur. E plenior litera est, I angustior. But he

goes on to reprove the excess on the other hand of being too sollicitious in this

matter, and says admirably, Nescio an negligentia in hoc, aut solicitudo sit pejor.

So likewise Tully (Orator ad Brut.)2 Theopompum reprehendunt, quod eas

literas tanto opere fugerit, etsi idem magister ejus Isocrates: which last Author,

as Turnebus on Quintilian observe, has hardly one Hiatus in all his Works.

Quintilian tells us that Tully and Demosthenes did not much observe this Nicety,

tho’ Tully himself says in his Orator, Crebra ista Vocum concursio, quam magna

ex parte vitiosam, fugit Demosthenes.3 If I am not mistaken, Malherbe of all the

Moderns has been the most scrupulous in this point; and I think Menage in his

Observations upon him says, he has not one in his Poems. To conclude, I believe

the Hiatus should be avoided with more care in Poetry than in Oratory; and I

would constantly try to prevent it, unless where the cutting it off is more prejudicial

to the Sound than the Hiatus itself. I am, &c.


[Ad Herennium, IV. xii]

[Orator, xliv. 151]

3 [ibid.]



‘The Ballance of Poets’


From Robert Dodsley’s The Museum: or, the Literary and Historical

Register, no. xix, 6 December 1745 (1746 ed.), ii. 165–9.


M.De Piles is one of the most judicious Authors on the Art of Painting. He has

added to his Treatise on that Subject, a very curious Paper, which he calls The

Ballance of the Painters. He divides the whole Art of Painting into four Heads;

Composition, Design, or Drawing, Colouring, and Expression; under each of

which, he assigns the Degree of Perfection which the several Masters have

attained. To this End he first settles the Degree of sovereign Perfection, which

has never been attain’d, and which is beyond even the Taste of Knowledge of the

best Criticks at present; this he rates as the twentieth Degree. The nineteenth

Degree is the highest of which the human Mind has any Comprehension, but

which has not yet been expressed or executed by the greatest Masters. The

eighteenth is that to which the greatest Masters have actually attained; and so

downwards according to their comparative Genius and Skill. Monsieur de Piles

makes four Columns of his chief Articles or Parts of Painting; and opposite to the

Names of the great Masters, writes their several Degrees of Perfection in each

Article. The Thought is very ingenious; and had it been executed with Accuracy,

and a just Rigour of Taste, would have been of the greatest use to the Lovers of

that noble Art. But we can hardly expect that any Man should be exactly right in

his Judgment, through such a Multiplicity of the most delicate Ideas.

I have often wished to see a Ballance of this Kind, that might help to settle our

comparative Esteem of the greater Poets in the several polite Languages. But as I

have never seen nor heard of any such Design, I have here attempted it myself,

according to the best Information which my private Taste could afford me. I

shall be extremely glad if any of your ingenious Correspondents will correct me

where I am wrong; and in the mean Time shall explain the general Foundations

of my Scheme, where it differs from that of the French Author. For he has not

taken in a sufficient Number of Articles, to form a compleat Judgment of the Art

POPE 539

of Painting; and though he had, yet Poetry requires many more. I shall retain his

Numbers, and suppose twenty to be the Degree of absolute Perfection; and

eighteen the highest that any Poet has attained.

His first Article is Composition; in which his Ballance is quite equivocal and

uncertain. For there are, in Painting, two sorts of Composition, utterly different

from each other. One relates only to the Eye, the other to the Passions: So that

the former may be not improperly stiled picturesque Composition, and is

concerned only with such a Disposition of the Figures, as may render the whole

Group of the Picture intire and well united; the latter is concerned with such

Attitudes and Connections of the Figures, as may effectually touch the Passions

of the Spectator. There are, in Poetry, two analogous kinds of Composition or

Ordonnance; one of which belongs to the general Plan or Structure of the Work,

and is an Object of the cool Judgment of a Connoisseur; the other relates to the

most striking Situations, and the most moving Incidents. And tho’ these are most

strictly connected in Truth and in the Principles of Art, yet in Fact, we see them

very frequently disjoined; and they depend indeed on different Powers of the

Mind. Sir Richard Blackmore, a Name for Contempt, or for Oblivion in the

Commonwealth of Poetry, had more of the former than Shakespear; who had more

of the latter than any Man that ever lived. The former we shall call Critical

Ordonnance, the latter Pathetick. And these make the two first Columns of our


It may perhaps be necessary to observe here, that though literally speaking,

these two Articles relate only to Epic and Dramatic Poetry; yet we shall apply

them to every other Species. For in Lyric Poetry, in Satire, in Comedy, in the Ethic

Epistle, one Author may excell another in the general Plan and Disposition of his

Work; and yet fall short of him in the Arguments, Allusions, and other

Circumstances, which he employs to move his Reader, and to obtain the End of

his particular Composition.

Our next Article answers to that which Monsieur de Piles calls Expression;

but this likewise, in Poetry, requires two Columns. Painting represents only a

single Instant of Time; consequently it expresses only a present Passion, without

giving any Idea of the general Character or Turn of Mind. But Poetry expresses

this part, as well as the other; and the same Poet is not equally excellent in both.

Homer far surpasses Virgil in the general Delineation of Characters and Manners;

but there are, in Virgil, some Expressions of particular Passions, greatly superior

to any in Homer. I shall therefore divide this Head of Expression, and call the

former Part Dramatic Expression, and the latter Incidental.

Our next Article answers to what the Painters call Design, or the Purity,

Beauty, and Grandeur of the Outline in Drawing; to which the Taste of Beauty in

Description, and the Truth of Expression, are analogous in Poetry. But as the

Term Design, except among Painters, is generally supposed to mean the general

Plan and Contrivance of a Work; I shall therefore omit it, to prevent Mistakes;

and substitute instead of it, The Truth of Taste, by which to distinguish the fifth

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